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How design is driving change in healthcare

11 Jan


Designing for healthcare can force you to rethink everything you thought you knew about how people behave. The industry’s dense thicket of lawyers, privacy regulations, and outdated technology is easily the most frustrating part of a designer’s job – but it also creates opportunities. And the chance to improve on the way healthcare is delivered is hugely motivating. Exhilarating, even.

These are a few of the conclusions drawn by the designers who recently spoke about what their jobs in healthcare mean to them. Hosted in San Francisco by Opower, Design for Good panelists included:

  • Moderator David Webster, who led IDEO’s global Health & Wellness practice
  • Jesse Silver, VP of Product for Omada Health, which focuses on promoting healthy behavioral changes
  • Susan Dybbs, Head of Design at Collective Health, which works to improve employer-sponsored health insurance
  • Laura Martini, Director of Product Design for Counsyl

The group weighed in a number of topics, including how to create a user-centered experience in a world where the fax machine can still call the shots, and how design can benefit in a mission-driven company culture.

If attendance is any indication, design in healthcare is a hot topic. Nearly 150 people packed the event. “It’s refreshing hearing from other designers facing the same kinds of challenges we are,” says Martini. “Many of the ‘best practices’ in design – like short onboarding flows or clever website animations – don’t make sense in medicine. Working in this space gives you a chance to reinvent what good design looks like.”

Below are a few clips from the event.

What challenges are specific to designing for healthcare?


No designer can work effectively to improve health care without first becoming familiar with the regulatory environment. Developing an understanding of everything from HIPAA, to FDA requirements, to insurance coding is simply part of the job. The result can be a pace that’s “a little bit slow-moving at times,” says Jesse Silver.

But challenges can also turn out to be opportunities. Martini talked about Counsyl’s decision to improve healthcare delivery by taking on the industry’s price transparency problem.

Says Martini, “It shouldn’t take Silicon Valley engineers and a lot of time and resources and years of effort to be able to give patients a simple answer to the question, ‘How much will this cost me?’”

What can users teach us about designing for healthcare?


In a world where technology is helping businesses everywhere achieve frictionless transactions, it can be a struggle for designers to keep in mind that’s not what always works in healthcare. Sometimes patients reject slicker and faster in favor of deeper relationships with a company, as Jesse Silver’s team discovered in the course of working with diabetics to make healthy lifestyle changes.

“We have people calling up to tell us they want the onboarding process to be longer because they want us to understand them,” says Silver.

And in many clinics the fax machine is still a critical part of clinical workflow, says Martini, which means “you have to design fax-first.” In healthcare, it’s about facilitating human-to-human interaction and not just coming up with solutions to enabling technology.

How can the desire to make the world a better place fuel good design?


Each designer on the panel noted the advantages that come from working for a mission-driven company. They credited the “desire to make the world a better place,” in Martini’s words, for not only inspiring designers but for creating a corporate culture that supports good design.

“Designers, I think, by nature are passionate and usually driven by some mission,” says Jesse Silver. “And so, if they’re aligned with your mission, then design flows more smoothly throughout the entire organization.”

Design for Good: Rethinking Healthcare

If you’ve got time, grab some popcorn and check out the entire event.



Counsyl Tech Talk: July 18, 2013 at 7pm

24 Jun

The cost of sequencing human genomes is plunging – 5x faster than the cost of computing.  The potential impact on preventive healthcare and the medical landscape is boundless.  The science is there but the scale isn’t.  That’s where Counsyl comes in.  We are building the technology platform to make genomics useful and accessible to everyone.  We hope you will join us on Thursday, July 18, from 7:00-9:00pm for our Tech Talk on “How I Learned to Stop Worrying about Big Data and Love the Data That Actually Counts.”

We look forward to hosting you at our newly renovated 60,000 square foot space in South San Francisco – oh and of course there will be food, drinks, and networking!

We’ll be providing shuttles from different locations in San Francisco as well as South SF Caltrain. Let us know where you are traveling from so that we can plan transportation appropriately.

RSVP on Eventbrite

“How I Learned to Stop Worrying about Big Data and Love the Data That Actually Counts.”

Speaker: Imran Haque, Director of Research, Counsyl

Imran Haque, Director of Research at Counsyl

Imran Haque, Director of Research at Counsyl

A single current DNA sequencer can produce 540GB of raw data in a few hours — without even covering an entire human genome. So, obviously, genomics must be a big data science.

In this talk I will deflate two pernicious myths: that “Big Data” is where all the action is, and that genomics is Big Data. I will explain why genomics, as practiced both in the clinic and in research, is distinct from other areas usually used to define “big data”. In particular, a dearth of outcomes data means that interpretable regions of the genome are tiny, while the rest is all sequenced up with nowhere to go. I will further argue that despite this, genomics is one of the most interesting current areas of computer science and engineering, and is likely to be the latest wellspring for new innovations across the stack from architecture to AI.


A Crash Course in Genomics for 7th Graders

10 Jun

My name is Rebecca, I am a 7th grader attending Sierra Expeditionary Learning School. My class has been studying cells, genetics, and body systems and wanted to learn about how genetics applies to the real world. We planned a trip to the Bay Area, where we visited places such as Counsyl, Stanford, 23andMe, and the San Jose Tech Museum.

Kyle Lapham giving a tour of our lab automation

Visiting Counsyl was a great experience for all of us. One of the most interesting parts of our visit to Counsyl was the Q & A time. We had a chance to hear from a robot programmer, a genetic counselor, and a laboratory scientist, and then we were able to ask any questions about working in the field of genetics.  My classmate Taylor said something that really hit the nail on the head: “I changed my motives for becoming successful. Now I just focus on my passion because I learned that your passion will lead you to success.”

For a lot of people in my class, the trip to Counsyl really changed their opinion on genetics. Thirteen of twenty-one students in my class now think of genetics as a potential career option in the future, as opposed to a score that would have been much lower had we not come to Counsyl. I asked a few of my classmates what was the most surprising thing about Counsyl and what changed for them after coming to Counsyl, these were a few of their answers:

“The three things I’ll remember most is the robotics, how everyone seemed to be smiling, and that it looked like everyone enjoyed their jobs.” – Gary

“What was most surprising was that I didn’t think that what they were doing was super important or cool but when I came there it turned out that everything was important and cool.” – Sophia

“What was most surprising for me was how many people they help through genetics.” – Cooper

Eric Evans, CSO, speaks about founding CounsylOverall I think coming to Counsyl was a great educational experience for my class. It was very inspirational to learn about what it was like to have a career in genetics.  I thought it was great that Counsyl is empowering people by giving them knowledge about the different risks for genetic diseases. Nowadays genetics has become more and more accessible and affordable which is why I think people should take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about their own genome.

RebeccaThe author, Rebecca, is 12-years-old and finishing up her 7th grade year at Sierra Expeditionary Learning School in Truckee, CA. She wants to become either a scientist, an actress, or an author. Her current interests are acting, writing, singing, dancing, soccer, tennis, and reading. Our advice for Rebecca: follow your heart!

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